Saturday, 29 October 2011
The Crone Goddess is particularly associated with Samhain in contemporary Paganism, because she is the midwife and layer-out, the one who cuts the cord of both life and death. She represents merciful release; but she also possesses the wisdom of old age. Wisdom is traditionally represented (in the Bible and in other traditions) as a feminine being or quality. Wisdom is the joining together of instinct and experience and knowledge. It is the wisdom of the body, the knowledge of when to act and when to refrain from acting, when to speak and when to keep silent. Wisdom comes from reflection upon experience and knowledge.
Other festivals at this time of year are the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) when people visit the graves of their loved ones and hold feasts in their honour; and the Christian festivals of All Saints and All Souls (also known as All Hallows, which is where we get the name Hallowe'en, a shortened form of the Eve of All Hallows).
Contrary to popular belief, the Hallowe'en custom of trick or treat did not originate in America. It has its origins in much older customs from the North of England called guising, where people would dress up as scary monsters and frighten their neighbours. The function of this custom is to express the repressed shadow side of the psyche in a harmless and fun way, so that we fear it less by making it visible.
Pagans build altars for their deceased loved ones, and recall them to mind in ritual at this time of year.
Many Unitarian and UU churches now celebrate Samhain and/or All Souls.
Several websites have suggestions for Samhain activities for children (but adults will enjoy them too): here's one with suggestions for children, by Akasha.
You can find out more about the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain from Robin Herne's article, Samhain Myths.
There's a lovely UU Samhain service by Elizabeth A Lerner.
Thursday, 27 October 2011
One way of creating new stories is to practice storytelling in the round. One person starts off a story, and then when they have run out of ideas, the next person in the circle takes over. You can augment this practice by using cards with images or words to suggest ideas to the participants.
Storytelling is an art which it is very satisfying to learn. To make your story come to life, include details of colour, taste, smell, sound and texture; imagine how the characters in the story feel about their situation. Traditional storytelling does not go into much detail, but it gets across the experience with directness and immediacy. You can also add your own personal twist to well-known stories, such as telling the story from the point of view of another character – how about the story of Little Red Riding Hood from the point of view of the wolf, for instance? Try to find and listen to traditional storytellers and learn from their technique.
Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Mandalas can also be drawn or painted. Carl Gustav Jung (the psychoanalyst) drew mandalas representing his inner states, and encouraged his clients to do the same. Other Jungians also did this. Drawing a mandala can be a very satisfying experience – it doesn’t have to be great art; it’s the process of creating a picture of your inner world that is important. You can also make mandalas from seeds, pebbles or shells.
Once you have created your mandala, you can use it as a focus for meditation, following the patterns you have created, or meditating on the meaning of the symbols within the mandala.
Sunday, 23 October 2011
However, the preparation and drinking of tea has a restorative effect on many people. The fragrance of the tea, the effect of drinking it, and the relaxation of sitting and being focused on the pleasure of tea, is all good for you. It’s even better if it is accompanied by conversation with a friend.
The title of this post is taken from the excellent website entitled "A nice cup of tea and a sit down" which extols the pleasures of this activity, or should I say inactivity?
Saturday, 22 October 2011
The benefit of registering for an event is that you can sign up for a reminder email, and you will receive emails about any last-minute changes to the event. If the event has a limited number of places, then your place on it is assured by registering for it.
Friday, 21 October 2011
Jewish tradition has the Seder or Passover meal, in which specific symbolic foods are eaten, representing different aspects of the Passover story. The youngest person present must ask, “Why is this night more special than all other nights?” and various other symbolic actions are performed, such as leaving the door open for Elijah, and raising a toast to the idea that one’s next Seder will take place in Jerusalem.
Christianity has the Eucharist, which commemorates both the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples, and also the meal he is said to have shared with them at Emmaus after his Resurrection. The meal consists of bread and wine consumed in a sacred manner. There has been much conflict throughout Christian history about what the Eucharist means, who is allowed to partake of it, and what its effects are. Nevertheless it is a powerful ritual. Stephen Lingwood, a Unitarian minister, suggests that communion represents Jesus’ radical hospitality – his willingness to eat with people marginalised by society, such as prostitutes, tax collectors and publicans.
In Wicca, the shared meal is known as cakes and wine, and is usually consecrated by a woman and a man (or a same-sex couple), and then shared among the participants in the ritual. A portion is kept for offering to the deities as a libation.
In some Hindu traditions, a portion of the food is offered to the deities while it is being cooked, and blessed food is known as prasadam.
The ancient Greeks had a ritual of sharing bread, which is where we get our word symposium, which literally means ‘together bread’. In ancient Rome, there were dining clubs devoted to the god Bacchus (god of wine), which presumably had a ritual or spiritual aspect.
Many religious traditions (including Buddhism, Christianity and Paganism) give thanks for their food before eating. Typically, the meal blessing might include thanks to all the beings and processes that went into creating the food, and a wish that everyone in the world might have enough to eat.
Cooking can also be a spiritual practice. It is in many ways akin to alchemy (the transformation of one thing into another); indeed, a cooking vessel invented by a medieval female alchemist – the bain-marie – founds its way from the laboratory to the kitchen. In Jewish tradition, the preparation of food has special rituals associated with it. The magic of a lovingly prepared meal is powerful stuff, restoring both body and mind.
Thursday, 20 October 2011
If your altar is for meditation or prayer, choose a spot in your home that is quiet and peaceful. Consider how you will use your altar. If you are going to place flowers on it, or use it in ritual, make sure there is space for everything you need, and that the altar is easy to keep clean. Some people like to light a candle or ring a bell before they start their ritual, meditation or prayer.
The typical altar might have a bell or singing bowl, some holy pictures or statues, some natural objects such as pebbles, shells, feathers or wood to make a connection with Nature, a candle, prayer beads, and perhaps a holy book. It may be a shrine to a particular deity, saint, Buddha or bodhisattva, or to multiple sacred foci.
In Orthodox Christianity, the shrine at which the family prays is known as the Beautiful Corner, and is decorated with icons of favourite saints. Icons are seen as windows into Heaven, and depict the transfigured face of the saint. Before praying, people will light a candle and cross themselves.
In some traditions, people build altars or shrines at particular times of year. In Mexico, people build shrines for El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) to commemorate their loved ones who have died. There might be photos of the loved one, together with their favourite foods, and flowers. Many Pagans around the world have borrowed this idea. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her classic book Women who run with the wolves, describes how women built altars to commemorate losses in their lives, and how this helped them to grieve properly and to recover from the trauma. You could also build altars for particular rites of passage, such as the transition from childhood to adulthood, or for marriage or divorce. The altar might include symbols of the phase that is coming to an end, and symbols of the new phase to be embarked on. You could even build one altar for each phase, and then have a ritual progression from one phase to the next.
Another way of making an altar is to find a special tree or rock, and decorate around it with found (but biodegradable) objects arranged in a pattern, such as twigs, leaves, berries and feathers.
There is no right or wrong way to make an altar. Each altar is personal and special. If you are following a particular spiritual tradition, it may have particular ways of making altars, but even within that, there is plenty of scope for creativity.
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,Yeats was inspired to write the poem by Henry David Thoreau’s account of how he retired to a hut beside Walden Pond, there to contemplate the wilderness, be self-sufficient and find himself.
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
Ross Nichols suggests that one of the benefits of living in a hut is that there are fewer distractions there; no electricity, no running water, only yourself and the wilderness (or your garden) for company. It was important to Nichols that the hut should be a semi-permanent structure, so it felt safe and secluded.
Monday, 17 October 2011
The word paradise means an enclosed garden; the earliest gardens were oases of fertility in the desert, such as the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which must have required considerable watering. The fabled Garden of Eden was the mythological model for such gardens. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ uncle Zovár said that the Garden of Eden was really the whole Earth, because everywhere on Earth is capable of flowering like a garden, and is full of the divine presence if you know how to be aware of it.
Composting (an essential aspect of gardening) is a wonderful metaphor for the process of change and transformation. We compost our dead matter (past experience) and it helps to fertilise new growth (the wisdom that comes from experience).
Saturday, 15 October 2011
Haiku are essentially poems about Nature, so Japanese haiku also have a season word, to indicate in what season the action of the poem takes place. The season word does not have to be the name of the season; it can be something that is obviously associated with that season – for example, plum blossom would indicate that the poem was describing spring. The imagery of a haiku is simple and unpretentious, and generally does not use similes to achieve its effects. The natural phenomena described may very well be metaphors for something else, but the haiku may also be enjoyed for the images of natural beauty, and the human response to it, that it conjures up.
Haiku poets would often gather together to compose haiku on the spot. One poet would begin, and then another poet would respond with a haiku of their own, and in this way a series of linked haiku (known as haikai-renga) would be composed by the group.
Sometimes haiku would be combined with travel writing or other prose. The most famous example of this form is The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho, which describes Basho’s travels to the far north of Japan. The combined haiku and prose form is known as haibun.
Writing haiku teaches one to strip things back to the bare essentials, to distil experience into its pure form, and to observe Nature closely. It is a very satisfying process, because haiku are so short, and so complete in themselves.
Thursday, 13 October 2011
The theologian St Augustine famously wrote “Solvitur ambulando” (It is solved by walking), by which he presumably meant that as you walk, the problems that were at the forefront of your mind are put on the back burner and there solved. I have experienced this process myself.
Walking is also more environmentally friendly than other means of locomotion.
Eastern Orthodox Christians practice the prayer walk, which is a form of processional walking, with stops for prayers at various intervals.
The practice of walking labyrinths is a very ancient practice dating from pre-Christian times, but also used by Christians in labyrinths such as the famous one at Chartres. In a Chartres-style labyrinth, you never know quite how near or far you are from the centre, so as you twist and turn through the labyrinth, walking slowly and meditatively, you are reminded of the twists and turns of life, and sometimes solutions to problems come to mind as you walk.
Buddhists practice the walking meditation, which is where you walk slowly and mindfully, place one foot in front of the other in a slow and deliberate way, silently reciting a mantra as you walk.
Another way of walking mindfully is to walk in a garden, and walk towards the first thing – perhaps a plant, perhaps a stone, or a leaf on the ground – that attracts your attention, and then really look at it. What colour is it? What is its texture? How is it structured? Is it growing or decaying? Smell it, touch it. Does it make a sound? Follow the patterns on its surface. When you have really observed it with all of your senses, thank it and move on to the next thing that attracts your attention. At the end of your walk, you might like to draw what you have seen, or write a poem (perhaps haiku) about the experience.
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
“A picket frozen on duty,
A mother starved for her brood,
And Socrates drinking hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions, who though nameless,
The straight, hard pathway trod –
Some call it consecration,
And others call it God”
“The moment lacked the splendour of a vision or of a voice speaking out loud. But the moment awakened and confirmed his belief that the essence of faith is not some grand metaphysical idea but something personal, grounded in experience – something that opens up mysteriously beyond the predicament of human beings in frailest and noblest moments.”
Women who run with the wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
This classic book has inspired many women to discover their inner wild self – the self that instinctively knows how to sense danger, to protect itself, to be nourished by stories and wilderness. The book is structured around several classic folktales, including the story of the Selkie (retold by the author as Sealskin, Soulskin), the Inuit story of Sedna, the story of the girl with the red shoes, the handless girl, and many other stories which teach people how to follow their instincts and listen to their hearts. Following each tale is a section explaining what it means and offering spiritual practices for everyday life. The wolf metaphor runs throughout the book, as the wild instincts of wolves are key to understanding how to be in touch with your own deepest instincts.
The Faithful Gardener – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
This is an interwoven collection of stories about life, from the author of Women who run with the wolves. The book begins with the story of the author’s Uncle Zovár being collected from the railway station in Chicago amidst the arrivals of hundreds of other displaced people arriving in America from war-torn Europe. The heart of the book is the story of that which never dies – the spirit which moves from life to life through various transformations.
Thursday, 6 October 2011
Today, 6th October 2011 is National Poetry Day. Due to this I thought I would publish this reflection inspired by one of my favourite poems “Ithaca” by Constantine P Cavafy. Here read by Sean Connery.
No one can honestly say that can they predict the future, where life will lead us. What we will end up doing or where we will end up going and who we will end up with. We do not know who we will meet along the way and we don’t know what these folk will give or perhaps take from our lives. Some people we will meet only once and never again; some will stay with us a short while and others will be with us until the day our bodies breathe their final breath, but we do not know who these people are the day we are born.
It’s much the same with situations. Some we may experience only once, many we may never experience and others we will continue to experience over and over again. At the beginning of our lives we can not predict what these are and would we really want to even if we could?
I do not personally believe that these are preordained either, before we were born. Do not get me wrong I am not an atheist I have a strong faith in a force that runs through life, that I call God. That said the God of my understanding does not control all life and does allow it to develop freely. For me God offers the Lure of Love to all life but does not control every interaction.
Eight years ago today 6th October 2003 the final stages of a part of my journey were just beginning to end. I entered into what I can only describe as a living hell. Thankfully I came out of this on 10th October 2003 and I have never really been the same man since.
How often have we heard the phrase “Life is a journey”? Sometimes beautiful; sometimes frightening!
For all of us at times just to simply step out into the world takes all the courage we can muster. Past experiences can often stop us dead in our tracks. Fear can block our attempts to step out into the world and back into the adventure of life with all its many challenges. Fear is always present to stop us to block us along the way.
Human history is littered with stories and adventures inspired by the search for treasure and or wisdom Whether these adventures be Jason and the Argonauts or many of the other Greek tales, Pilgrim's Progress, Gulliver’s Travels, The Wizard of Oz, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Lord of the Rings - the list is endless. Human history is littered with folk tales and myths which teach us so much about what life is in all its potential both for beauty and horror
Joseph Campbell who spent years exploring such myths believed that these stories helped us to fully understand how we are often called out into new adventures in our lives. He identified four distinct stages of the journey. The first stage Campbell named “The Call to Adventure”. This he claimed is caused by discontent, which draws us out of the comfort of our lives to risk something new; the second stage is a form of initiation where goes through a series of ordeals that test their mental and physical skills; The third stage is the time of revelation the discovery of truth and treasure; the final stage is the return to one’s community. With wisdom gained and with treasure to share.
Throughout our lives we are constantly called out and challenged to the adventure. I have learnt that in order to succeed in this requires faith in life itself and a sense of openness and courage to overcome the challenges that can come our way. I have learnt that the key is not to bring our own monsters with us along the way and therefore just deal with what we meet on the road.
This I believe is what the poem Ithaca is hinting at when it says:
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,Most of the demons that got in my way a few years back were not real at all, but merely fears created from my own past. They made me afraid to try; therefore I ignored the call to adventure for so long. You see the call itself is not enough, there also needs to be faith in the adventure itself that it will be a joy and one worth taking.
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
This faith comes naturally to children because they have not yet learnt to fear life. I believe that Jesus his hinting at this in Mark 10 v 15. Here Jesus states:
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.He is really speaking to his disciples and through this the author of Mark is telling us something of what faith must be, it must have an openness and be an almost innocent faith that the adventure that is life is worth taking. Of course it is talking specifically about Christian faith here, but for me this is a universal principle.
I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
Neither is the call to adventure really about the potential treasure that can be found at the end of it, rather the treasure in it. The poem Ithaca is certainly hinting at this. It is telling the reader to keep “Ithaca”, the call, in mind. It is also telling us that it’s not really the destination but the adventure itself that is the treasure. It ends by saying:
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.The key is the adventure, and to maintain that adventurous spirit. To live with the eyes of and heart of a child, to maintain that sense of awe and wonder that comes so naturally to them. Often in life the greatest gifts can come from the worst horrors, that has certainly been my experience.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithaca means.
How often has it been said that life is what you make it. For me this doesn’t mean you can have whatever you want in life and do whatever your heart desires. In my experience this is not true. That said whatever horrors may be bestowed upon us, something wonderful and beautiful can come from them, if we can only find and maintain that spirit that Jesus saw in children.
As for the destination well who knows the answer to that, certainly not me. I suspect there is more beyond this physical form but I cannot say for certain. In any case that should not stop us from enjoying the adventure we are on now, from learning from it and passing that knowledge on to those we meet further down the road. Wherever it may lead us.
No one can predict the future. I do not believe it has already been written. Personally I think it is better that way. To want to know what will happen is just another form of human vanity that is inspired by a fear without faith.
I’ve grown accustomed to the uncertainty.
Chaos rules ok.